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RCOG release: New patient information on breast cancer and pregnancy published

News 7 November 2014

Most women treated for breast cancer during pregnancy or women who become pregnant after treatment for breast cancer have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, states new Patient Information published today by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women affecting around 50,000 women in the UK each year but is rare in younger women. Treatment success rates in the UK are good and are continually improving, with 5-year survival rates currently around 80% for the under 50s age group.

Increasing numbers of young women who have been treated for breast cancer are now going on to have babies. On rare occasions, breast cancer is diagnosed during pregnancy. This new Patient Information provides information for women who are pregnant and have been diagnosed with breast cancer or who have recovered and are planning a family.

For women diagnosed with breast cancer whilst pregnant, treatment will usually begin straight away and will be offered according to the type and extent of the cancer and a multidisciplinary team will discuss all available treatment options. These include;

  • Surgery to remove the lump or the affected breast. Surgery can be carried out at any stage in pregnancy.
  • Chemotherapy is not given during the first thirteen weeks of pregnancy as it may cause abnormalities in the baby. After that, it is safe and chemotherapy may be offered. The anti-sickness and steroid treatments that control chemotherapy side effects are also safe and will not cause harm to the baby.
  • Radiotherapy is not usually offered as a treatment option until after the birth.
  • Two commonly used drugs, tamoxifen and herceptin, are often given after the initial treatment to reduce the chance of the cancer recurring. These drugs are not recommended during pregnancy and will be delayed until after the birth.
  • The information also discusses how breast cancer treatment may affect fertility and highlights that every medical team should take into account any plans for future pregnancies and offer chemotherapy drugs that are less likely to affect fertility.

Philippa Marsden, Chair of the RCOG Patient Information Committee said:

“It is important to emphasise that breast cancer during pregnancy is rare, with 1.3–2.4 cases per 10,000 live births.

“Being diagnosed with breast cancer whilst pregnant can be extremely frightening. However, a specialist team including a consultant obstetrician, midwife and breast team will look after a woman throughout her pregnancy and ensure the best possible outcome for both mother and baby”.

Cath Broderick, Chair of the RCOG Women’s Network added:

“The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is improving all the time and we are now seeing more women than ever surviving the disease. Being pregnant does not seem to affect how successful treatment is. This Patient information gives a lot of reassurance and advice for women in this situation”.

Ends

For further information, please contact the RCOG Media and PR team on +44 20 7772 6300 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk

Notes

This information has been developed by the RCOG Patient Information Committee. It is based on the RCOG Green Top Guideline Pregnancy and Breast Cancer which was published in 2011.

More information and support can be obtained from:

Breast Cancer Care
Helpline: 0808 800 6000
Website: www.breastcancercare.org.uk

NHS Choices – Breast cancer during pregnancy

Macmillan Cancer Support
General enquiries: 020 7840 7840
Helpline: 0808 808 0000
Website: www.macmillan.org.uk

Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Website: www.breakthrough.org.uk

Cancer Research UK
Website: www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/breast-cancer/living/pregnancy-and-breast-cancer
Cancer Research UK helpline: 0808 800 4040
Email: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/utilities/contact-us/send-a-question/